This was the “Degrowth of Aviation” Conference


12 – 14th of July 2019 in Barcelona

The Stay Grounded network, together with civil society organisations and the Institute for Ecological Sciences and Technology ICTA in Barcelona, organized the conference “Degrowth of Aviation”. The conference brought together 200 people from social movements, NGOs and academia in order to discuss concrete measures and strategies to reduce air traffic. As Barcelona is one of the cities getting overcrowded by tourism, involving serious environmental, health, housing and other social problems, special links were made to movements for a just and environmentally sound tourism.

Find pictures about the conference and the actions on Flickr (Photos made by Christine Tyler).

Find videos on Twitter & Facebook.

Find the press release here and the press review here.

Why this Conference?

>> En español aquí <<

Aviation and its damaging impact on climate change is starting to be discussed more and more. The problem, however, is, that none of the current strategies that target aviation‘s climate impact actually challenges the constant growth of the aviation sector. Instead, they pretend that flying could, in the future, become „climate neutral“ through technical improvements, biofuels and offsetting.

The Stay Grounded Network, in its position paper, makes clear that those are false solutions. The study „The Illusion of Green Flying“ points out the different short-falls and problems of the aviation sector‘s greenwashing strategy. The current instruments don‘t tackle the problem and shift the discussion away from the fact that we need to radically reduce aviation, especially in countries of the Global North. This is a necessary step to reach a just and ecological mobility system.

Decarbonizing aviation is an illusion – it‘s time to degrow aviation

So if the only solution is degrowth of the aviation sector and reducing flights – how do we get there? Aviation is closely linked with our transport system, with tourism, energy and global trade – and with our economic system based on constant growth and competition. Fast mobility is necessary for a capitalist globalized system – yet the faster, the more climate-harmful it is. Climate justice can only be achieved by questioning this model, by reorganizing mobility, regionalizing the economy, and overcoming global inequity. Still, there are still many steps to be taken towards this systemic change needed.

A mere reform of taxation schemes will not ultimately bring about the needed transformation – but which steps bring is closer to there, and which lead us away from those visions of an ecological and just society? Current policies of subsidization and non-taxation of the aviation sector are totally unjust and environmentally problematic. They directly feed the high, unrestrained growth of the aviation industry, leading to widespread, problematic hyper-mobile lifestyle choices, and travel and the normality of goods from everywhere anytime. In this conference, we discuss different instruments that could help to reduce aviation and the economic and social normalities it creates.

We excluded some potential measures right away because of being unjust in creating more problems than they solve, or because they don‘t have the capacity to bring about systemic changes. Among them are emissions trading, offsetting, „alternative“ fuels (biofuels, power to liquid), and the sole focus on efficiency of the engines. This conference shifted the discussion towards measures that might be more effective.

We started the discussion

The conference discussed a series of questions, among them:

  • Does it make more sense to demand for market and price instruments (like different taxation) or to implement regulatory instruments like limits to the numbers of flight, moratoriums on airport projects or shutting down certain airports? Or all of them?
  • Does it make more sense to work bottom-up (individual behaviour change, voluntary changes of travel policies, grassroots pressure from below) or top-down (policy changes)? Or how can they play together in order to achieve systemic change?
  • What kind of taxation system would be socially just and lead towards a reduction of flights?
  • What role do institutions play in the rising demand for flights? How can and should they change their travel policies, to support environmentally friendly ways of travelling?
  • What kind of alternatives to flying exist and what is needed to improve them?
  • What role does tourism play in the discussion about degrowth of aviation? Do we need caps on tourism and if yes, how can that work?

The idea of the conference was to get into serious discussions about concrete ways to degrow aviation. Some of them might work within the current system. Some of them might challenge its foundations. They might lead towards the question of whether individual liberty should be restricted at the point where it violates the liberty of others. They should include considerations about the differences between countries in the Global North and the Global South and what kind of role international agreements and solutions must play.

However there was not the space – and even the need – to mutually agree on a common manifesto or strategy. All of the discussed measures and strategies have their advantages and disadvantages, but their largest disadvantage is, that they are not publicly discussed the way they should. In the conference, we filled this gap and produced some outcomes that were published in our report “Degrowth of Aviation”.

Find the different working groups here.

Find more on the methodology of the conference here.

Program of the Conference

> En español aquí <<









Methodology of the Conference

>> En español aquí <<

Our methodology was quite different from typical academic conferences. Papers did not need not be submitted. The conference included keynote speeches and public panel discussions, but its main feature was working groups chaired by experts from civil society and academia. Each working group had ample time for in-depth discussion on a specific approach for degrowing aviation. This methodology is partially influenced by the Nyéléni-Conferences on Food Sovereignty.

The parallel working groups worked the following strategies or instruments:

  • Kerosene tax, ticket tax and VAT
  • Frequent flyer levy, progressive tax on flights and individual flying quotas
  • Limits on domestic flights, short haul flights, and flights per city, airport, and low-cost airlines
  • Institutional changes of travel policies (universities, ministries, NGOs, etc.)
  • Moratoria on and bans of new airport infrastructure and airports being scaled down and dismantled (e.g. regional airports)
  • Fostering alternatives (e.g. night trains and buses in Europe, and ships using renewable gears)
  • Caps on tourism (e.g. in cities)

At the core of the working group discussions were questions like:

  • What are socially just and feasible instruments and strategies to reduce aviation?
  • Can degrowth of aviation be organized in a top-down or bottom-up way – or how must
    this be interlinked?
  • Should we rather choose to demand taxes or limits?

Each working group focussed on a specific instrument or strategy, whilst (in discussing its advantages, disadvantages and feasibility) keeping in mind the topical approaches the other groups are deliberating. When the working groups were done, a plenary session compared the outcomes. The goal of the plenary was to reach a conclusion on which strategies our movement should pursue and which instruments we should demand, toward reaching our goal of degrowing aviation.

To promote in-depth discussions, sign-ups for each working group were made in advance, and participants of each group were sent a briefing paper ahead of time. It described the state of the art of a group’s topic, posed central questions, and provided some literature. Experts participating in the working groups had an opportunity to contribute to the briefing papers.

On the last day, we, as the Stay Grounded network, discussed how to proceed on those outcomes and conclusions. How can Stay Grounded and its member organisations implement them in our campaigning?

Conclusions reached in the conference were spread widely through an online summary and video clips. The outcomes also contributed to our report on „Degrowth of Aviation“.

Working Groups


1. Kerosene tax, ticket tax, VAT

In Europe, aviation kerosene is not taxed, while in many other countries a tax exists at least for domestic aviation. A new leaked study shows that taxing kerosene in the EU would cut emissions by 11% and raise almost 27 € billion in revenues every year – a new EU civil initiative calls for a kerosene tax. Adding to this, in many countries international flights are exempt from VAT. From a climate justice perspective, these tax-avoiding privileges are irresponsible and very unfair because they favour aviation over sustainable alternatives like trains.
This working group will discuss the possible effects of a kerosene tax, a ticket tax or VAT on tickets and goods, trying to work out the pros and cons. A close look on aspects of social justice, an international comparison as well as a clear distinction between a kerosene tax and a carbon tax will be at the core of the discussion.

Download Briefing Paper here


2. Progressive ticket tax or frequent flyer levy

In the UK, around 15% of the people are taking around 70% of the flights. Why should they be taxed the same as the people flying just once every while? Studies show, that those frequent flyers are wealthy. A progressive ticket tax increases the amount of tax with each successive flight-ticket one buys (could be per year, per life…). Some models propose one tax-free flight per year with increasing taxes for additional tickets ( Other models propose increased taxes for business class tickets, or stress that the tax revenues must directly feed into supporting railway infrastructure and scientific research on alternatives.
This working group will discuss what a progressive ticket tax could look like, and what would be obstacles and barriers to it.

Download Briefing Paper here


3. Limits or caps on short-haul/domestic flights

In a time of climate crisis, there seems to be no good reason for domestic flights within Europe and short-haul flights in general. Instead, investments in good train infrastructure and ecological passenger ships are needed. The argument that personal liberty would be cut in case of forbidding or limiting short-haul flights, must also consider the restricted liberty of all the people already suffering from the climate crisis.
In this working group, we will discuss the pros and cons of bans, limits and caps. This includes thinking about what would be needed for people to accept this idea and for politicians to actually put a law in force. The role of decent alternatives and a just transition are likely to be at the centre of the discussion as well as questions about the national or international scope of the measure.

Download Briefing Paper here


4. Moratoria on new airport infrastructure, and scaling down of airports (e.g. regional airports)

Expanding airports and constructing new ones both accommodates rising demand for flights and creates a business impetus to boost demand, to fill the growing capacity. There are about 1200 airport infrastructure projects around the world. Many of them are connected to violations of human rights and destruction of biodiversity or agricultural land. Airports also put people under constant noise and pollution pressure. Putting a moratorium on new airport infrastructure and scaling down existing airports wherever possible could be ways to stop the growth of the sector.
This working group will summarize the various struggles all around the world against new airports or airport expansions and discuss strategies on how to support them. Would it make sense to focus our demands on moratoria on infrastructure projects, and to demand the shut down of most existing airports?

Download Briefing Paper here


5. Institutional changes in travel policies

Travel policies mostly follow a pattern: the cheapest and fastest way to travel is given every advantage. This forces people to take the plane even if they don’t want to. Governments, communes, universities, NGOs, trade unions and other institutions should take the lead and serve as role-models by implementing travel policies that support the most climate-favouring, sustainable kind of transport. This means not only committing to higher travel costs but also to more time spent on the journey which can be counted as working time.
This working group will discuss best-practices of travel policies in different sectors. How can those changes be fostered? How are or should they be interrelated with other needed changes on a political as well as on an institutional level?

Download Briefing Paper here


6. Fostering Alternatives

Not only are plane tickets very cheap, the lack of good and affordable alternatives also pushes people to fly. First steps on the way to a sustainable transport system can be: Night-trains and buses, improved international booking, improved transfers and affordable tickets. When it comes to crossing the ocean, investment in ships with renewable fuels is needed. Work travel can partially be shifted to online conferences. At the same time, we have to accept the need to generally question the hyper-mobile lifestyle we have developed over the last few decades – maybe a form of decelerated societies are also part of the solution.
This working group will discuss alternatives to air travel. What are the already existing alternatives, what is needed to improve them and what should be the focus of research, social movements and policy work?

Download Briefing Paper here


7. Tourism Degrowth

The consequences of over-tourism are hitting more and more cities and places and are closely connected to low-cost airlines and the growth of the aviation sector. Some cities already put limits on the number of cruisers that are allowed to enter the port or limit entrance to overcrowded areas. In Barcelona, social movements are fighting for sustainable tourism and against platforms like Airbnb that contribute to rising rents and gentrification.
This working group will discuss if and how limits and caps on tourism could be an answer to those problems. What regulations are feasible, socially just and what would be needed for sustainable tourism?

Download Briefing Paper here


Barcelona: A City Exploited by Tourism and Air Traffic


Barcelona is the fourth most-visited European city, the first destination of Mediterranean cruise ships and the seventh largest European airport. While there were 3,7 million bookings in 1990, in 2016, Barcelona had more than 31 million bookings. Barcelona’s tourism industry leads to very serious impacts and conflicts for the local society and the environment – social movements raise critique.

The city of Barcelona has experienced major transformations over the last four decades. The questionable developmental and speculative process around the celebration of the 1992 Olympic Games produced the first series of touristic waves which continue producing themselves today. If anything has changed, it is the overall perception; the social criticism and struggle against processes 1 which have brought about the growth of mass-tourism in Barcelona and carried with them a spiral of inequalities and social conflicts. This is not a new or a Barcelona-specific phenomenon, it simply follows global logics and impacts many southern European 2 cities and their inhabitants in a similar way.

The Olympic Games might have awoken discussion, but it was mostly in 2004 that the celebration of the “Fòrum de les Cultures” provoked criticism and mobilized social movements against another mega-event related to developmental and speculative dynamics. The global criticism against the process of touristification has been visible for years and it is brought forward by the analysis, denouncement and local proposals of social movements. Each year has been characterized by the growth of different mobilizations against the different aspects of touristification.

Transport and Tourist Infrastructure in Catalonia

The promotion of the Barcelona brand is, broadly speaking, the result of international impulses which offered the Olympics, other global events and touristic icons. This promotion has been managed by the public-private consortium Turisme Barcelona and has made Barcelona a touristified city with the largest touristic affluence on the planet. This can be proven by Barcelona’s rampant evolution: it grew from 3,7 million bookings in 1990 to more than 31 million bookings in 2016 3. As a matter of fact, more than 23 million visitors and tourists pass through Barcelona each year, with a mean of 154.000 daily visitors 4. Being one of Europe’s most dense cities (15,881 inh/km2), with 1,6 million residents, the pressure of tourism is very present, especially in the central districts. Barcelona is the fourth most-visited European city, the first destination of Mediterranean cruise ships and the seventh largest European airport 5 with more than 55 million passengers per year 6. In 2018, the number of intercontinental journeys by airplane has increased by 10,9% (9,4% on average since 2010) 7 . The number of cruise ship tourists has increased by 12,1% 8 and the number of tourists by 4,3% 9. In this way, Barcelona is on a continuous tourism growth-path ever since the Olympic Games.

Barcelona’s tourism industry and its production model leads to very serious impacts and conflicts for the local society and the environment:

  • The expulsion of residents for the transformation of their houses into tourist accommodations (hotels and both legal and illegal apartments);
  • The increase of rental prices and purchase of real-estate for the purpose of market-competition as well as a focus on “touristic appeal” which basically translates into attractive real estate;
  • The substitution of daily commerce with shops and services for tourists which are generally useless or inaccessible for the local population;
  • The increasing collapse of mobility and accessibility as the result of private mass-events: music festivals, major conferences, sports competitions, etc;
  • The specialization of the labour market in the tourist sector which is particularly precarious and feminized (e.g. las Kellys). The wages in the accommodation sector are one of the lowest in Barcelona;
  • High levels of noise and air pollution, primarily caused by air planes and cruise ships;
  • High generation of waste and abuse of natural resources;
  • The loss of communitarian/public spaces as the result of the privatization for the purpose of touristic infrastructure and the concentration of leisure services (port zones, hotels, restaurant terraces and mono-functional zones for night life);
  • The deterioration of the local population’s living conditions and health;
  • Over-specialization in tourism, reducing the opportunities for other productive sectors as well as an increasing dependency on the tourism sector.

Changes of rent prices between 2014 and 2018 and the offer of AirBnB in Barcelona: Violet circles show the number of AirBnB sleeping places. The darker the surface, the more changed the rents (up to 420 € per month).

The touristic model which is responsible for these impacts is neither free nor natural; it has been created according to the concrete interests of political and economics elites. It is nested in a more global dynamic of the financialization of the economy, and hence, the commodification 10 of life. Financialization captures the growing dominance of finance in the economy and the lives of people. Some examples are real-estate speculations, the increase of rents and the dispossession of public spaces which respond to a dynamic of commodification and financialization which compromises the right to housing, the right to the city. Big investment funds and banks, with complicity of the State, concentrate the benefits of this system while they cause and externalize (or socialize) the losses and negative consequences they produce 11.

In a capitalist context, despite being a booming economic engine, the tourism sector, apart from other things, is currently responding to the logic of productive and financial accumulation where life remains at the margins and not in the centre. This, by means of speculation on our conditions of life through the decrease of wages, precarization at work, intensification of labour journeys, the worsening of labour conditions; compromising the health of workers an the environment 12.

In fact, the last years of coordination between collectives and entities, as well as the increasing hardships and evident touristification process, has caused a turmoil in the public opinion on the perception of tourism in Barcelona. Historically, the official perception held by those responsible for this process (the private sector and public institution) can be summarized as “tourism is good for everyone because it produces wealth and jobs”. But today, mass tourism is essentially seen as a problem of capital in the city and forms part of the population’s biggest social preoccupations.

Barcelona Special Tourism Accomodation Plan, IAAC blog

As a result of this change, the aforementioned responsible sectors have had to change their discourse. The private sector initially tried, without success, to blame the organized movements and is referring to them as mobilizers of “tourist-phobia” 13. At this moment, business owners are trivializing the concept of sustainable tourism and use the classist discourse of quality tourism. This does not resolve anything because the problems are not a matter of quality or tourist behaviour, they are a matter of size, disorderly markets and power relationships.

The local government is making steps, in recent years it has been formed by means of a municipal candidacy partly arising from social movements and including a program that reflected part of their demands. Mostly, it has kick-started critical discourses with the tourist sector at an institutional level and for the first time, some interesting but moderate measures have been proposed. But in the end, as the mandate progresses, the local government seems to have settled with the idea of managing the process of touristification without aspiring to stop or effectively reverse it.

The Airport as Catalyser of Global Tourism in Barcelona

The growth of tourism and real-estate (oriented towards a floating population) in Barcelona cannot be explained without mentioning the infrastructure behind global and regional access, allowing the movement of tourists, temporary residents and investors. International aviation has been crucial for the development of Barcelona as one of the main tourist destination in the Mediterranean periphery. This process was possible thanks to various political and economic factors: the public investment in airports and incentives for airlines, the non-existent taxation of aviation, the liberalization of the aviation sector resulting in the ability to purchase cheap tickets and the increase of European and international airline connections.

Takeoffs at Barcelona Airport

The fact that 82% of tourists arrive in Barcelona by airplane 14, along with an exponential increase in the number of international arrivals, seems to be the main catalyser of the production of global tourism. In the last 2 decades, the amount of travellers recorded at the airport of Barcelona has increased by more than 20 million. This has facilitated a 17% increase in Barcelona’s tourism over the last 5 years.
This system of mobility has strong environmental implications, it is estimated that the transport by air plane represents 75% of the carbon emission from tourism in Barcelona (the total emissions include transport, accommodation and tourist attractions) while 92% of the carbon emissions from tourism in Barcelona 15 can be allocated to transport as a whole. A tourist who arrives in Barcelona by air plane consumes 605,7 kg of CO2 on average instead, a tourist who arrives by train only consumes 52,9 kg of CO2 16. Long distance flights have a very significant effect, approximately 25% of tourists arrive in Barcelona by means of a transatlantic flight and they alone generate 58,2% of the carbon emissions associated with touristic transport 17.

In this way, the airport of Barcelona contributes to the exposure of high environmental pollution to many residents in Castelldefels, el Prat y Gavà. The WHO (World Health Organization) has recognized the noise pollution of airports as a serious public health problem which can result in hearing loss, communication problems, concentration problems, sleep disorders, cardiovascular problems and mental health decline 18.

Action by Prou Soroll. © Prou Soroll

Based on ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) forecasts on international aviation growth in the next decades, a lot of governments justify the construction of new airports, terminals or the extension of landing strips. Spain’s national Ministry of Development and AENA, a state-owned company that manages the general interest in airports and heliports in Spain, plan the expansion of Barcelona’s airport in order to meet a demand of 25 million passengers more (mounting to 70 million passengers). An operation which will include the Girona-Costa Brava airport 19.

The recent Tourism Marketing Strategy Plan, promoted by Barcelona Tourism on behalf of the City Council, complements on the territory the enormous tourism growth planned by the infrastructure expansion. Once again by the false promise of de-concentrating tourism to reduce its impacts, the affected territory is enlarged to continue growing in already touristified areas and to start the process in others not yet been exploited. After the generalization of the problem from the centre to most of the neighbourhoods, now they define as the tourist destination not just the city, but the full demarcation of Barcelona, overflowing its municipal boundaries. If tourism and touristification are essentially about territory and mobility, the infrastructural growth coincidentally allies with this extension of the battlefield.

The amplification of this infrastructure, along with the increase of cruise ship ports, will deepen itself even more in the disequilibrium between the touristic exploitation of the city and residential life – which has been and still is settled with the expulsion of the second by means of the first. Because of this, the contribution of tourism and air transport to the climate crisis will be disastrous.

The management of Barcelona’s “access-ports” is supervised by the Spanish State where Barcelona’s City Council only has residual bargaining power. This means that the future of aviation and urban coexistence remains far from the influence of Barcelona’s population.

Given this diagnosis, the social movements call for the Degrowth of tourism and aviation!



1Ajuntament de Barcelona (2017): Estratègia de mobilitat turística de Barcelona.
2Idem (3)
3Cambra de Comerç de Barcelona (2018) Observatorio de tráfico aéreo de Barcelona: Informe trimestral, Diciembre 2018.
4AENA (2019) Informe 2018.
5Idem (3)
6Port de Barcelona (2019) Estadísticas de tráfico acumulado Diciembre 2018
7La Vanguardia (2019) “Barcelona recibe más turistas extranjeros y dejan más dinero”. Acceso el 19/05/2019
8Financialization is a process and contemporary phase of the capitalist economy in which finance has become extremely powerful, penetrating the daily lives of people as well as political decision-making on international, national, regional and local scales. It is based on the speculation on different financial products which are not related to the real economy. These products are bough and sold, generating capital gains of a “fictitious” origin since they are not related to the value of a material good but to its future value.
9‘La falsa solució turística concentració de beneficis i deute social’, Marta Ill Raga (Observatori del Deute en la Globalització).
10‘Situació , característiques i efectes del treball en el sector turístic a la ciutat de Barcelona’, E. Cañada et al. (UPF & Greds Emconet).
11These are processes of accumulation by means of dispossession, as defined by the Marxist geographer David Harvey who explains different methods of capital accumulation (privatization, financialization, etc.) which allow the capitalist system to prosper and maintain itself over time. This also generates repercussions for the sectors impoverished by capital’s crisis of overaccumulation. See: Harvey, D. (2004) The New Imperialism
12In response to this global touristification tendency, movements are responding and collaborating beyond their own territories. An example is the SET (south European cities and territories against turistification) network. ABTS (assembly of neighbourhoods for a sustainable tourism in Barcelona) is a member of the SET network along with 20 other entities and collectives who have share the same critical view of turistification and struggle to influence its reversal.
13 A concept invented to criminalize social movements and mobilizations who are against mass-tourism and its harmful impact.

14 Idem (1)
15 Rico, A. et al. (2019) Carbon footprint of tourism in Barcelona. Journal of Tourism Management, 70, 491-504
16 Idem
17 Idem
18 Forastel P., M., et al. (2010) Informe sobre los efectos adversos del ruido ambiental, englobando el ruido producido por el transporte aéreo. Centre de Recerca en Epidemiologia Ambiental, Barcelona
19 The project is not yet definite. Both the Ministry of Development and AENA have announced the expansion project in various public decrees. This year AENA prepared a service for the development of studies concerning the expansion project. Some news (in Spanish) can be found here:

The conference was supported by: